MIT Researchers Developed a Device That Makes Drugs On Demand

It could make a huge difference for doctors in remote areas or on the battlefield.


Image courtesy of MIT

In our tech savvy world, we’re used to having TV shows, groceries, taxis, and more there when we want them. An innovation from MIT could add medicine to that list.

MIT researchers developed a portable device that can create biopharmaceutical drugs on demand, giving doctors working in suboptimal conditions fast access to the medications they need. The project is detailed in a paper published Friday in Nature Communications.

The system uses a programmable strain of yeast, called Pichia pastoris, to create the desired pharmaceuticals. The yeast and a chemical trigger are mixed together evenly inside a small microbioreactor containing a microfluidic chip. Then, the system flushes out the liquid and leaves the yeast cells behind. The liquid can be used to create a single-dose treatment, while the cells stay in the device for its next use.

“You want to keep the cells because they are your factory,” the chip’s creator, Rajeev Ram, said in a statement. “But you also want to rapidly change their chemical environment, in order to change the trigger for protein production.”

The device, its developers say, could be a lifesaver for doctors working in vulnerable conditions, such as the battlefield, a remote village, or even an ambulance.

“Imagine you were on Mars or in a remote desert, without access to a full formulary,” senior author Tim Lu said in the statement. “You could program the yeast to produce drugs on demand locally.”